You always go back to the classics — and with today’s story, you can return to a pony take on one of the great classics of English literature.
Arthurian—The Black King
[Dark] [Romance] [Tragedy] • 30,305 words
“Those of us who have a general overview and knowledge of King Sombra regard him to be a despotic autocrat, a power-hungry potentate and a vicious oppressor. And, even if this condemnation is justified, we may perhaps not have the right reason for this attribution. This is due to the fact that before King Sombra turned to the tyrant we all know him to be, he was the greatest knight of the Crystal Empire.”
—Sir Sombra de Onyx, Foreword to the Third Edition
FROM THE CURATORS: “This is a very ambitious piece,” Present Perfect said — as its roots show. “The author lists Le Morte D’Arthur and Ivanhoe as the primary inspirations,” Chris said, “and Wellspring does a commendable job capturing both the literary style and the feeling of history-by-way-of-myth which permeates Le Morte D’Arthur. A capital-r Romance in the truest sense, this is a story about character archetypes presented in a tell-heavy style.” It is also, in Horizon’s words, “metal as heck. From Sombra’s world-serpent origin to the way the sphinx is killed, this continuously finds new ways to crank up the level of epic.”
And while The Black King can be an easy story to bounce off of — “I can appreciate what the author’s doing here, but I can’t read it,” AugieDog said — it richly rewards readers willing to engage with it. “The style is obtuse, and all the grammatical errors don’t help the story at all,” Soge said, “but this story sold me on its metafiction aspects levels so hard that by the end I went from ‘Wellspring needs a editor’ to ‘Boy, Equestrian grammar sure has changed’. The afterwords are tone perfect, the historical and plot inaccuracies feel legitimate, and the footnotes complement the text beautifully.” Present Perfect had similar praise for those margin elements: “There’s so much unexpected humor with the historical inaccuracies in the footnotes. And there’s historical poems in them! They do quite a lot more work than one expects footnotes to. … I’ve also never praised an afterword before, which should say enough by itself.”
What locked in The Black King’s feature, though, was that its unusual style was wrapped around solid storytelling. “Sombra’s backstory is really powerful,” Present Perfect said, while Soge praised its worldbuilding more broadly: “The story carries some fascinating ideas about Sombra, the Crystal Kingdom, and historical Equestria as a whole. I love how Sombra’s tragic flaws are mostly positive attributes, which makes the inevitable conclusion all the stronger.” It all added up to a package worth the time spent in adjusting to its presentation. “The more I think about it, the more impressive I find this story to be,” Chris said. “The Black King captured my imagination in a way few fanfics do, and I feel like that’s the definition of something worth spotlighting.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Wellspring discusses showy footnotes, writing archetypically, and the evil of Cervantes.
Give us the standard biography.
Male, 24 y.o., college philosophy and sociology teacher, single.
Bench Press: 165lbs
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It’s a synonym for fountainhead, which is a reference to Ayn Rand’s novel.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Pinkie Pie/Pinkamena Diane Pie
What’s your favorite episode?
Season 5, Episode 24 “The Mane Attraction”
What do you get from the show?
What do you want from life?
Why do you write?
To practice my English.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Read my blog: The Epistemology of Style.
You’ve already provided some background on the style and sources of this story in a blogpost, and I’d like to ask you to expand on something from there. You say that your ponies, like Malory’s knights in Le Mort D’Arthur, are essentially archetypes defined by a single salient characteristic. How does a story which uses archetypes instead of true “characters” influence the construction of the narrative itself, and how to you keep a story moving forward when its cast doesn’t have more than the most basic sort of motivation?
Archetypes are most workable when used with the “Tell-All” style, as Arthurian—The Black King was written. How they influence the narrative is heavily dependent on what literary school is the work grounded upon, i.e. either being Romanticism or Naturalism. Since archetypes are merely various differentia to the same genus, it would seem counterintuitive, at first, to use them in Romantic literature when ancient Greek theatre defined it as “Man having free will” or, as it translates to writing, “Character-driven plot.” Since goal-orientedness is at the core of this school, characters without intrinsic motivation makes it a challenge to outline the plot where there is no single “character-purpose” to revolve the story around. The key here is events, or, to be more specific, logical continuity of events. In a Tell-All Romantic story that uses archetypes, one method of building linear coherence is the systematic and purposeful series of events arising based upon the reaction (not initiative) of the said archetypes based from previous events. Due to this, for ease of plotting it is highly advisable that, first and foremost, the writer must already know the climax and ending of his/her story and then work backwards from there.
TL;DR Instead of asking “What would these characters do next?”, ask “What should the next logical events be, and how would my archetypes react to this?”
All the inspirations you cite for your story, ancient and modern alike, deal heavily in explicit morals and unambiguous authorial “lessons” to the reader. Could you expound a bit on what messages, specifically, you want a reader to take away from this?
Moral lesson? Chivalry still counts, for yourself if not for society.
Literary lesson? Don’t be afraid to experiment with the writing style and try something new.
There are a number of metafictional elements to this story, even beyond its conceit of being an in-universe piece of fiction. What were your goals in including things like the footnotes and afterwords by canon characters?
In all frankness, my end-goal for that is practice and experimentation.
In relation to the fic, however, it is to give greater depth to the story so much so that the universe becomes a character in itself. In a Tell-All style as well, the footnotes and afterwards provides just enough detail to “Show” the backdrop of the story.
On the subject of the afterwords: although it’s clear where your sympathies as an author lie, do you consider Clover and Words’ opinions of the story fair or reasonable? More broadly, to what extent (if at all!) do you view it as appropriate to judge a piece of fiction by the moral standards, storytelling practices, or expectations of historical accuracy of an era other than the one in which it was written?
Clover’s afterword is a reaction against common criticisms of naturalists to romantic works. Though he sympathizes with Whisperwind, he makes it a point to imply that the two literary schools have differing standard of values.
Words Worth’s judgement is fair from the perspective of an academic and a historian, but not that of a novelist. He symbolizes the school of classical realism, i.e. discrediting everything that has, or can have, no bearing in reality whatsoever.
I do not only think it is only appropriate but, rather, mandatory that a story is to be judged regardless of the current zeitgeist, practices, accuracy, of whatever era it was written in or being read on. This is because, as human beings, we pass judgements automatically and, most of the time, subconsciously. The end-product of this judgement comes in the form of an emotion. The only question is whether this judgement is purposely and consciously identified, or just simply summed up to a passing feeling of “I like it” or “I don’t like it.”
Judgement, however, can and must be discriminated. In any work of fiction, the technical and philosophical aspects must be judged separately.
As an example, I judge Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes as an atrociously evil book because it preaches the absurdity of chivalry. However, I similarly judge it as one of the best literary pieces that has ever been produced in terms of style, content, pacing, etc.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
As someone who is not a native English speaker, Arthurian—The Black King was a challenge. I had to keep in mind a lot of things during writing: the MLP canon, the in-universe settings, the phrases and expression, the timeline using the H.A. and L.B. Calendars, etc. Not to mention that it was my first attempt at self-editing (hence the myriad of grammar errors), medieval fantasy, archaic language, Tell-All style, metafiction, and world building.
In all honesty, three years since it’s publication, I did not expect Arthurian—The Black King to resurface again. What was once a 20k-word fanfic written for practice somehow managing to get itself featured in RCL is quite an honor. I cannot help but ascribe the same feeling of serendipitous romanticism when the curators rediscovered this old relic from the past no differently than how Twilight Sparkle similarly unearthed Sir Sombra de Onyx.